Three young children burst out of the front door of a bright yellow beach house with a thatched roof, screaming. The door, with wood swollen from the seaside humidity, bangs off the door frame as they try to slam it in the face of their pursuers. Max, two feet high and thick thighed, spots his hiding place immediately. His tiny legs are so short you can barely see them in the overgrown grass as he tears toward the massive potato bush growing a few meters from the house and, with stunning grace, dives straight under it, burying himself amidst the brambles and shouting in baby language as Daniel and I careen, barefoot, down the mapalo path, barely affected by the sharp crushed shells giving way beneath our calloused feet – feet which have not yet known shoes.
We are pursued by no less than three large Mozambicans, some of the fastest runners in Southern Africa, shouting the odds in Chitswa and snatching at our heels as we desperately make our escape.
“Up the tree! Mind the boomslang in the hollow!” I screech at Daniel as we reach the car park, and he immediately begins climbing, nimbly avoiding the dark crevice on the west side as well as a thick arm which swings out to grab him. He’s up, poking his head through the thick canopy above to watch me with wide eyes as I sprint to the generator room, looking for a place to hide.
My venators are three steps behind me -
My goat flees in the wake of our bedlam, braying blue murder -
I dive behind the generator room -
Make for the pathway near the well -
Sprint uphill towards the school hut and -
I am surrounded.
Quick as the black mamba residing beneath my parents bedroom deck, Saramento, the fastest of our trappers, grabs hold of my arms, wrestling me to the ground so that Kandida, dreaded by all children and terrifying in her girth, can grab my legs and together they transport me, like a wild boar, to the poitjie pot, screaming and cursing the earth.
I can hear Daniel threatening to jump out of the Zulu Podberry tree. Someone has climbed up after him. In the end he doesn’t have the guts and is hauled down, biting and using all the swear words he’s learned from Dad.
Max is still buried beneath the potato bush, shrieking at Judy to leave him alone.
Daniel and I are wrestled, writhing like electrified snakes, into the kitchen where Mother – that traitorous Rat! - stands over a smoking pot of execrable potion, cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West, praising her calamitous cohorts as her children are presented, shouting and frothing at the mouth.
You may be wondering at this point if this tale has a happy ending and I can assure you, it does not. Mozambique, you see, is a wild place, comprised of three main integrants: feral people, corrupt tax men and horrible diseases. Of these three, the two which are pertinent to our story are the feral people and the horrible diseases.
The horrible disease in question is, of course, malaria, the dreaded tropical fever that all of us have had at least 37 times each – a guarantee when living in a place like Mozambique.
And so it was that Mother Rodent was so absolutely sick of drip feeding us Quoartem and cleaning vomit off the sheets at 2am, that she concocted a vile and vitriolic poison made up of pawpaw leaves - legend in Mozambican culture, the kernel of their herb-lore, taken straight from the rambling recipes of the local Nanga, which Kandida, that fell and despotic nursemaid, swore would make us immune for all our lives.
Pursuant to this solemn promise, Mother Rodent had spent the morning filling the house with an odour so foul it could have smoked the devil out of hell, and then, with guileful charm, informed us three children that we were to drink at least one mug each of this pawpaw leaf tea, and that is when, with wills of iron, wild eyes and screeches of abandon, we went propelling through the front door, the intransigent executors of my mothers command hot on our heels.
Upon our capture she swooped down on us, pouring her egregious decoction down our gagging throats as we spluttered, coughed and screeched like rabid ferrets, and then were tossed, unceremoniously, onto the lawn outside to cotch and squall. Max, the last to evade entrapment, was finally manhandled from beneath the potato bush and put up a fight that a green-backed iguana would be proud of, as Mother Rodent brandished her terrible tonic and cackled, reprehensible, roguish and rapturous in her victory.
I am, now in hiding from Mother Rodent,
The Inscrutable Shrew